To the world outside of Texas, Brad Houser is best known as a co-founder of the band which evolved into Edie Brickell & New Bohemians. The video for their single “What I Am” became a late ‘80s MTV staple and their album Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars reached number 4 on Billboard’s Album Chart. The follow-up, 1990’s Ghost of a Dog, peaked at number 32 and the band broke up soon afterwards. As of late August, 2010, when we spoke just two weeks before his 50th birthday, the newly married Houser continued to play bass in and around the capital of the Lone Star State.
I definitely think about being old more than I used to, because, you know, I can remember back thirty years to when I was 20 and thirty years from now I’ll be 80 so, I mean, that’s kind of a weird ass concept.
Mentally, it’s kind of weird thinking I’m going to be 50, because that just sounds old. I mean, ever since I was a kid 50 was old. Hell, 40 was old, and like 50’s really old, you know? And I’m pretty youthful for my age, but I pictured 50 as being just really old and starting to be decrepit, which back in the ‘60s it was. I mean, people who were 50 years old tended to be pretty damn old.
So there’s definitely been kind of a negative mental head-trip about hitting 50, for sure. I have to kind of fight that, you know, and just kind of reset my thoughts about my age.
When I was a little kid, all I wanted to play with was airplanes and rockets. I grew up seeing the Gemini space shot on TV. That’s one of my earliest memories, seeing those go up. And I wanted to be an astronaut, but a little bit later I just really wanted to be a pilot. I wanted to be a fighter pilot, wanted to go fast, do loops and shit. And then much later you kind of realize, Well, you also have to kill people, so it’s not that great. But the glamour and the sort of mythology of those fast, shiny airplanes really stuck with me as a kid. I think a lot of kids of my generation got bit by that bug because it was just so obvious. Those things are fast and shiny and noisy and really neat looking, and so it grabs you. But I’m near-sighted, so by the time I was 11 or 12 I realized that they didn’t accept pilots who were near-sighted in the Air Force, and so I started giving up on that. I didn’t want to be a navigator. I wanted to be a pilot.
Somewhere between the age of 10 and 12 I started discovering I had musical talent, and then when I was 12 I took up the saxophone and just got really good on it right away, and very quickly. And then that was the path.
My parents wanted me to be an engineer so I actually stayed in advanced placement-oriented classes all the way through school, went through a couple of years of college for engineering, and then eventually dropped out because I just knew I was definitely a musician and I was not an engineer. I was smart enough, but I had no drive for it.
But very quickly on the saxophone. My first week I was able to play melodies by ear and was clearly going faster than the other kids. And my teacher noticed that, too. I just had it. And I started playing bass later in high school and, you know, picked that up very quickly because I already was improvising. I just would pick up a bass and could get it going. And so it definitely was apparent that that’s what I wanted to do.
I would say 40 is the age you can’t pretend like you’re not an adult anymore. Because you can definitely keep it going through your 30s. Believe me. You can really keep your 20s going through your 30s. But when 40 hits, the shit gets real. Especially when 45 and 46 hit. I think the 30s can continue on through the early 40s even, but man when you hit those mid-40s it’s like there is no denying it. It’s really hitting the fan.
And I think the physical changes really start to accelerate in the 40s, where you just can’t get away with pretending you’re 30 anymore. I think a lot of people sober up in their mid-40s because it just… The damage starts to happen really bad, you know.
I quit drinking. I quit right after I turned 40. I am an alcoholic, and I kind of spontaneously sobered up. My urge just kind of fell away about three days after my 40th birthday. And I really needed to quit. I was never arrested, never pulled over. I just… My health was getting crappier and I was drinking more and more. And I knew I needed to quit and I really couldn’t stop, and right after I turned 40 my urge just kind of vanished overnight and I just went with it.
Really, the urge and the craving just kind of dropped away. And I feel extremely fortunate. It felt like the hand of the divine, actually, because it was really miraculous. It felt like my body chemistry kind of changed. My body started strongly rejecting alcohol, and I just went with it.
After the urge dropped I tried drinking like two more times and it just kind of made me feel nauseous and kind of anxious. And I just said, Okay, I’m done. And that was ten years ago, actually, coming up in September.
I remember one time at a Woolworth’s when I was really little I wanted some toy and my mom wouldn’t buy it for me, because I probably had been plenty bought up that week. And I was just bawling, man. Just crying. I was so mad and angry that I couldn’t have this thing I wanted. And I do remember that, so maybe that was one of the big moments when I came up with this belief that life’s not fair.
I mean, ultimately I started realizing life appears to be unfair, but I really do believe there’s this thing called karma. It’s bigger and more mysterious than my understanding, but it’s the only way to explain the injustice in the world, that perhaps there is this mechanism of karma that’s kind of keeping balances. It reminds me of a joke that’s kind of a metaphorical question: if you could have God give you exactly what you deserve, would you take it?
That question’s almost a personality test. And I can’t answer that one either. That’s kind of a scary question, you know? It’s like, well, you might think you deserve really good shit, but what if you don’t? You’re going to roll those dice and let God give you exactly what you deserve, but maybe right now I’m getting that. You know, I would like to be sure, but I feel very grateful for what I have and the fact that I’m not being beaten to death right now or in some jail cell or starving. I mean, I know what’s in this world, and I feel very grateful.
I had cancer when I was 42, and had surgery and the tumor was removed and we cleaned up the residual cancer with acupuncture and Chinese herbs. I didn’t do chemo or radiation. And the week leading up to my surgery, when the tumor was really booming in my body, I did have a couple of visions of my gravesite and my mother being there at my gravesite, because I definitely had a fever going. Oftentimes with cancer you kind of have a fever and your whole body kind of hurts. And so I was in a definitely altered state. And I really, kind of up until that point, I didn’t care too much if I lived or died, and like I had this vision where my mom was standing at my gravesite talking. And I kind of heard her voice, and I just realized, it kind of hit me real hard, like, I can’t let my mother survive me. And it did make some kind of change. I think my will to live kind of strengthened. I turned some kind of corner in those moments.
When my father died three years ago, we had some contact after his death that I believe to be real. And he was up in that light, and he was doing really well. He was really happy, and all I could feel was love coming from him. And, you know, some people might say I was imagining that, but it was pretty real to me at the time, and I got a lot of comfort out of it. So because it felt real and I felt a change from it, yeah, it was real.
I think I have the God thing sort of figured out.
One of my names I developed for God is 98.6. It’s really the life force, but it’s intelligent and it’s basically comprised of love. And I think going through all that is this karma thing where there’s some sort of balance sheet. It’s invisible. I’m not sure how the mechanism works, only that it does. That you basically get payback for whatever you create. And that that’s the only explanation for injustice that I can come up with, is that we somehow created it. And that bad shit is not God and is not necessarily God’s will. It’s just the balance sheet being worked out. Because God’s will is love, and that’s it. And all that shit about divine punishment and retribution, I don’t believe that. I just believe it’s karma being worked out. And it’s actually given me some peace, to kind of come to that realization. It’s like, Oh, okay. I can live with that.
For a long time, even though I’ve been very successful as a musician I don’t think I really felt fully comfortable as one. Like I was maybe supposed to be doing something else. And really, especially this decade, I have realized and know that this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m not like fucking off by being a musician when I should’ve been doing something else. This was what I was put here to do and not some other shit.
I mean, during these last two to three years the music has been flowing stronger and more effortless through me than ever. And my gigs are all amazing. I mean, I just… I’m in the zone. Now like nine out of ten gigs are just killer, and the other one will be just merely good. Or even if it’s shitty it’s still good. And so that, more than anything, has told me from the inside out that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. Because if I weren’t supposed to be doing this it wouldn’t be flowing like that. And that’s really the main confirmation that I take. It’s flowing, therefore it’s supposed to be happening. It’s like, Well, this is what I do.
When I was younger, I did practice and I did show up to all my gigs, but I didn’t obsessively practice. Although I did want to be famous. I wanted to be successful, to have a gold record, be on MTV. I did, even when I was a nobody playing in cover bands. I would see these people on TV and I wanted to be that successful. I really did. I would run into people who were perfectly content just to play and not have anything come of it, and I never understood that. I thought it was crazy to be a musician and not want to be successful. And so I did have fairly specific goals. I mean, my goal was I wanted to make it. I wanted to hit it, you know. And it happened. Now it’s changed where I just want to keep food on the table, keep the rent paid and keep being in the zone and having good experiences and stay employed.
There was definitely a feeling of destiny with that, too. I mean, we got together, wrote songs, did gigs, did our part, but it felt like we had some extra help from the other side that was bigger than us. And we all felt that in varying degrees. All of us, you know, in the New Bohemians with Edie. It did feel that that was destiny. It was supposed to happen. There was divine help of a sort, and I definitely felt it. I knew without a doubt. Fairly early in the band’s existence I just kind of had this epiphany where I knew it was going to happen. I just knew it, and that knowing stayed with me. And even when things would get temporarily shitty for a day or two, I just knew it was happening. And that’s a mysterious thing, and I don’t understand it. It just kind of is.
It’s a bitch. That shit is a motherfucker, I can tell you, because it all fell apart for us in ’91 and just kind of quickly went to shit. The band broke up and there wasn’t a lot of money at the moment, and I was pretty close to broke. And it sucked. It put me through a lot of crap emotionally. Actually, I wanted to quit playing music for a few months but couldn’t because I had no other way to make money. But I got through that and very quickly rediscovered my joy of playing and got fired up all over again. But I went through a crappy period where I was just bitter and pissed off and wanting to quit. Because as hard as it is to not make it at all, it’s real hard to make it and fall off of it. It really is. It’s not easy for anybody. It’s just wicked.
We just folded, you know. Our first record had done really well. Our second record actually sold almost 500,000 copies. It was considered a flop, which is really crazy by today’s standards. And the band just fell apart. Our time kind of came and went, and I could feel that. And psychologically, you know, it was a tough blow to the old ego. And probably, ultimately I think a necessary one, because I think I was up on a high horse that I didn’t realize I was on and I needed to come down. And so it all worked out, but it was pretty crappy for a little while [laughs].
You know, in my life right now I’ve really, legitimately got nothing to personally complain about. There’s a lot of shit in the world that pisses me off, but as far as my piece of the pie goes, I’m lucky.